So much for court-packing. And so much for the Green New Deal and ending fossil fuels, abolishing the filibuster, Medicare for All, gun bans, adding new states to create a long-term progressive majority and for embarking on the rest of the left’s legislative agenda. Progressives were convinced that Democrats were about to win in a landslide, after which the left could push all sorts of radical schemes. But they were prematurely counting their poultry and now they have egg on their faces.
The polls were way off. Instead of a blowout, Biden may just eke out a victory in enough swing states to win the presidency. Republicans will hold the Senate if they win Georgia’s runoffs in January.
Even if they lose, and the Senate has a 50-50 tie, it is doubtful that the few remaining moderate Democrats such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia would go along with the radical left’s agenda and lose their seats over it. Democrats have a reduced majority in the House that will leave Speaker Nancy Pelosi little margin for error in pushing Democrat socialists’ priorities.
Thus, a President Biden will enter office as a lame duck, stymied by Mitch McConnell’s Senate and his own advanced age—does anyone think he has it in him to run for reelection and serve until 2028? Biden will be seen as a caretaker president presiding over a gridlocked return to normal following Trump’s TV-personality and Twitter presidency.
Ironically, this is what Biden tried to run as: a generic old-time Democrat with an elder statesman patina. In this he was helped by the Chinese coronavirus, which gave him an excuse to make himself scarce for most of the campaign. The problem with this strategy is that Biden was no longer setting the agenda for Democrats or serving as their leader, and the progressive wing of the party was eager to fill that vacuum.
But socialism, cultural revolution, and riots are not popular. Progressives dragged Biden and the Democrats to the left, and down. Voters punished the Democrats for their radicalism.
If Democrats want to win, they cannot be in thrall to extremists eager to remake the country. As Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia reportedly said during a post-election vent session, “Don’t say socialism ever again.”
Perhaps lessons are being learned, and the radicals may be kept on a tighter leash going forward. Indeed, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has finally called in the National Guard to put down Antifa riots in Portland.
Even if the left itself is not truly chastened, its political power is stymied for now. The legislative process will not give the radicals the transformation of America they seek, and their less-radical comrades in the Democratic Party are likely to emphasize moderation for a time. Progressives writers are already mourning their losses and griping about how unfair it all is.
This does not mean the left is powerless. We should expect them to redouble their efforts in the areas they control in media, education, entertainment, tech and even the business world. Nor does divided government neuter all of their political agenda. Foreign policy is largely under the president’s control, and from China to the Middle East, Biden has a terrible record.
At home, the power of the administrative state is formidable, and Biden’s officials will use it to push the culture war. Public schools will be forced to allow males access to female-only spaces. The federal government will resume indoctrinating its workers into critical race theory. Nuns will once again be ordered to fund and facilitate the distribution of contraception.
To repel this administrative onslaught, conservatives will turn to the judiciary, which President Trump has filled with many excellent judges. As they did during the Obama years, Republican state attorneys general will lead conservative legal resistance to unconstitutional and illegal federal edicts and overreach. It is also essential to support the work of legal advocacy groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom.
But we cannot rely on lawyers to do all of our work for us. Voters have to keep congressional Republicans from rolling over. For example, they have been eagerly spending the nation into insolvency for some time now, and while a Democratic president might provide some incentive to rediscover fiscal restraint, we should not count on it. Populist conservatism must find a way to incorporate spending discipline (which, alas, is always unpopular). The alternative is bipartisan profligacy that may ruin us.
We should not eschew all compromise or bipartisan deal-making, but Republicans must ensure that they get good terms that serve the interests of their voters, not just their donors. Given past experience, it is all too easy to imagine some Republicans rushing to embrace a bad deal on trade, immigration, and other issues—the Chamber of Commerce wing of the party has interests that conflict with most of its voters.
Still, while we must remain on our guard, we can breathe easier if the left has been denied unified control of the federal government. In this close election with a split result, the progressive left, with its dreams of remaking the country, was the biggest loser.
The biggest winner is the Constitution. As the late great Justice Antonin Scalia observed, under our system of government, gridlock isn’t a bug. It’s a feature.